Last week's announcement of the venue for next year's Repco Rally Australia has the rally world abuzz with excitement.  Garry Connelly, Chairman of the rally's organising committee, has answered some more questions about the event on the Repco Rally Australia website.  We bring you the interview here......



Q: Last week’s announcement regarding Repco Rally Australia is obviously a huge boost for Australian rallying, how big an impact do you think the event will have on the sport at all levels?

Garry: Huge! If you look back to the public awareness of rallying in Australia in the mid-80s it was negligible. Then we noticed after the first ever Rally Australia event in 1989 a steady increase in public awareness (and this was measured by independent research). Certainly now a very high percentage of the Australian public know what a rally is - that was definitely not the case in the late 1980’s before we had a WRC event in this country. Every sport needs a locomotive to pull the train along and that is what the WRC does in every country it visits. With a move to the east coast, if car clubs work with us to capitalise on Repco Rally Australia’s potential profile, then a lot of new people can be introduced to the sport of rallying. As always, although the initiative comes from the top, the work of cultivation must come from the grass roots level.

Q: Will the event look to attract competitors from the ARC, as well as State and club levels to compete against the World’s best drivers?

Garry: I don’t think the event will be a part of the ARC simply because there are enough Rounds at the moment and I would not want to disadvantage any of the existing events. However our major focus will be to attract Australian competitors at ALL levels. The WRC is one of the few (it might actually be the only) sporting World Championships where a novice can compete and measure his or her performance against the best in the world - and that’s a fantastic thing for our sport.

Q: Will there be issues with vehicles running under CAMS’ Production Rally Car (PRC) regulations?

Garry: Currently the FIA rules allow only World Rally Cars, Group N and Super 2000 cars, and the new Group R cars. However, without wanting to sound too optimistic, I have put forward to the FIA World Rally Commission, and it will be discussed in the next few days at an important meeting in Paris, a proposal to allow cars that are roughly equivalent to Group N and S2000 and which are eligible for the host country’s national Championship, to be allowed to compete, but not score points, in the host country’s round of the WRC. I don’t know if that will get through but I know Morrie Chandler, President of the WRC Commission, supports the concept. The only proviso is that the cars would need to run with the Pirelli WRC control tyre but that is not proving to be a problem in other events. Indeed the privateers in other countries who have used the new Pirellis are raving about their performance and durability, saying they are after a cheaper option than their existing tyres. If my proposal comes off, then many PRCs would be able to compete at Repco Rally Australia 2009. But we must wait and see.

Q: Rally Australia’s history began in Western Australia and has a rich heritage in that state. How do you see the move to NSW continuing that?

Garry: That would be my number one priority. In WA I was fortunate to work with 2000 totally focused and skilled sporting officials and a very dedicated group of staff members to develop a culture of “customer service” where we treated competitors, media and the spectators as our “customers” and hence our sole reason to exist as an event. This, combined with delivering an event using the best possible practices and a commitment to innovation and creativity, delivered that “rich heritage” you refer to.

Q: And while on NSW, how did the event find its way to the most populated state in the country? And are there any similarities to the adoption by Events NSW to that of Eventscorp in WA 20 years ago?

Garry: It has been a long (three and a half year) journey from the day the WA Tourism Minister announced that WA would no longer fund the event until now. When we knew that (sadly for all those who worked so hard on it in WA) it had to find a new home, we were determined firstly not to let it slip through our hands and go to one of the many other countries vying for a round. We went to many other State Governments - some of whom had previously been desperate to secure the event and had even offered to take it over if WA ever wanted to give it up.

But instead of the people in WA Tourism at the time accepting this, they chose to continue to conduct the event then suddenly, without notice, pull the pin on the funding. Now that left CAMS in a terrible position because it is one thing for one state to take over the running of a successful event from another state without a lot of negative publicity. It happens all the time - for example with Life Saving Championships etc. But when someone comes out and says “we don’t want this anymore” it makes it very difficult to have others motivated to take on the event, despite all the evidence you can table to demonstrate its value.

Anyway, for three and a half years we pushed on and as is on the public record, came to an agreement to work with a property development in South East Queensland. But more on that later, but when we felt we could not deliver on the event in time for 2009 we looked to NSW.

Events New South Wales is a very new organisation which was attractive to us because it is designed on the same basis as the original Eventscorp Western Australia of 1988 - and that was a fabulous organisation led by a fantastic and visionary group of people. Events NSW is a company with its own independent board and staff but the shareholding of the company is held in the name of the Premier on behalf of the NSW people. This is exactly the same model as Eventscorp WA when it started except that the share was held by the state Treasurer. The only difference is that this time, Events NSW is not underwriting the event - it is essentially a sponsor - a very important sponsor! And I must say the people we have been dealing with (at very senior level) within Events New South Wales are fabulous to deal with and very determined to work with us to make this event a great success.

Q: Also the history of Rally Australia in WA was built on breaking the mould, injecting fresh creativity into rallying and of course the adoption of emerging technology. Will we see the same with the new event and can you offer any sneak insights?

Garry: If you don’t go forward, you go backwards. There is no such thing in life (or events) as “standing still”. We (and by “we” I mean our board, our organising team, our officials, Events NSW, CAMS and the local shires with whom we are getting fantastic cooperation) are completely committed to being innovative, creative and to making this event FUN.

In some ways the WRC has become a bit stereotyped. Whilst we will of course respect the rules and also place absolute priority on safety, we want to go outside the square. Respecting the traditions of the sport of rallying is very important to us and sometimes I think the modern WRC event model has moved away from that. But the most important thing, as I keep stressing is that we will be customer-focused and one of our main customer groups is the competi tors - from the smallest private team to the largest manufacturer team. They are very important customers and so are our spectators and the television viewing public. So we want to do whatever is in our power to satisfy their needs.

The other area where we will be using technology and creativity is in delivering this event as ENTERTAINMENT. This just happens to be a rally but more importantly it is a form of entertainment and we want everyone to go away from the event saying “that was fun - we’ll be back”.

Q: Rally Australia was known for having a high quality organising team when it was based in Perth. Who will be working on this event?

Garry: There will be many of the WA team coming across especially at senior official level and probably staff level as well. The teams and media will recognise many familiar faces. In addition we will be complimenting those with some highly experienced rally officials from the East Coast (which after all is the most highly populated part of Australia and which hosts no less than 4 major rallies including our Asia Pacific round). When we make our announcement about the Organising Committee in the next week or so, you will see just what a great group of experienced and talented people we have.

Q: There had of course been a push to take the event into South-East Queensland, and a connection to the proposed i-Mett development, why did that not eventuate?

Garry: The i-Mett development was a great vision and the people behind it were very enthusiastic. I don’t know for sure but I suspect the delay in getting the project underway might be related to the Sub Prime credit crisis but I don’t know for sure. We wish them well because one day that development could well be the most important motor sport feature on the Australian landscape.

Q: The nature of the roads seems to be the big talking point at this point in time, but also the fact that the areas the event will run in aren’t traditionally utilised roads for rallies. Is that a hindrance or a benefit?

Garry: A bit of both really. There are a number of unknowns. But the people of the Kyogle and Tweed shires are so enthusiastic about Repco Rally Australia coming to their area, and the roads are through some of the most beautiful countryside you could imagine, they are very smooth flowing stages, I think on balance it will be a benefit.

Q: The speed of the roads also seems to be a common statement by the WRC teams who have visited the area with some claiming the event may surpass Finland and Sweden as the quickest on the calendar. What sort of challenge does that present and will it help to build the events reputation around the world?

Garry: Daniel Grataloup from Citroen, who is a very experience and well known former co-driver, has driven the stages and told us he thought the drivers would love them. Yes they are very fast in places, but very smooth, wide and run through rolling hills with not too many trees! The FIA Safety Delegate Jack Bartos has driven the stages and is happy with them. We will be putting some protection on a couple of big trees at the end of fast straights (and there ARE some long fast wide straights) and installing the odd chicane to reduce entry speeds into some corners.

Q: The move to the East Coast presents a huge opportunity to tap into a far larger, more diverse audience than ever before. Do you see a challenge in this and what initiatives are planned to break rallying into the capitals dominated by traditional “ball” sports?

Garry: This is one of our big challenges. The WRC has been absent from Australia since 2006, motor sport in general does not get a fair share of the printed media in this country, but thankfully we have Network Ten which is strongly behind the Australian Rally Championship. We are developing a marketing plan in conjunction with our media partners, Repco, Events New South Wales, Tourism New South Wales, our host resort Salt (a stunning location) and other sponsors to market the event to the public mainly on the East Coast. If we succeed with our marketing then we will hopefully be able to attract a lot of people to the event. It may take a few years to really capitalise on the potential, but we will be targeting this larger audience.

Q: It was hinted at the event launch that the leading drivers would be back beside Sydney Harbour a year from now. Are there plans to conduct direct promotion in Sydney in the run up to the event?

Garry: We will be talking with all the teams very shortly about some plans we have to “turbocharge” our pre-event media promotions in Sydney as Australia’s largest city. If our plans come to fruition then I reckon you can count on a few things happening on the world’s most beautiful harbour in just under a year from now.

Interview courtesy


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